Graduate programs looks to revamp PhD
Date: March 2, 2001
By: Chris Curran
Phone: (513) 556-1806
Archive: Campus News
A UC committee covering both the medical and main academic
campuses is tackling the tough issue of how to prepare doctoral students
properly without stranding them in school years longer than necessary. The goal
is to refine doctoral education and to better prepare students for a variety of
academic and nonacademic careers.
The Committee on Enhancing Doctoral Education invited Jody
Nyquist, associate dean of the Graduate School at the University of Washington
and principal investigator for the Re-envisioning the PhD project funded by the
Pew Charitable Trusts, to campus recently in hopes of getting a national
perspective on the problem.
Nyquist worked with the committee, other administrators and
faculty involved in graduate education on Thursday, Feb. 15, then presented
some findings from national studies.
“There is national movement to rethink components of
doctoral education,” said Kathryn Gutzwiller, professor of classics and chair
of the UC committee. “We have to broaden our perspectives, increase
interdisciplinarity and examine the role of teaching, especially for industry.”
To examine the problem in depth, Nyquist’s team spent 18
months interviewing 375 individuals who had earned a PhD. Despite concerns over
the time-to-degree and lack of effective mentoring, Nyquist said there was a
common thread through all of the interviews. “I was so impressed by the passion
by those who have earned the degree,” said Nyquist. “Every one said the same
thing. ‘When I got my PhD…’”
Unfortunately, many of those doctoral graduates also
complained about their lack of preparation. They felt too restricted in their
research by their faculty advisers, unable to branch out beyond the limitations
of the adviser’s interests or the latest funded research project.
Nyquist’s summarized the key problems facing graduate
students in PhD programs:
* Time-to-degree: students felt uncertain when they would
finish their programs.
* Teaching effectiveness: students felt they weren’t properly
prepared to teach.
* Lack of mentoring.
* Uncertainties over funding.
* “The cloning factor” -- students felt forced to focus only
on the interests of their research advisers.
She noted that the concerns were consistent across campuses,
from the most prestigious research institutions to public, comprehensive
universities. What might have shocked her the most were the drawings made by
the students interviewed. They were filled with mountains, chasms and
obstacles. “As a mountain climber, I was shocked at the pictures. There were no
ropes, no guides, no safety nets. This is how they visualized their
Many also were concerned about their teaching ability. “I’m
not sure we’ve done enough to prepare future faculty,” said Nyquist, who
pointed out the Pew Charitable Trusts have stopped funding programs to support
graduate education, because they haven’t seen a return. For example, roughly
one-third of students who participated in a Pew-funded project to improve TA
training dropped out.
Nyquist tried to reassure those who are afraid that
initiatives like hers will damage the prestige of the PhD. “Nobody wants to
dilute, demean, disrespect the PhD, but that’s everyone’s fear. We want to make
it more than it was, not less.”
In fact, Nyquist’s research demonstrated that there is
tremendous respect for those who have earned a PhD, from academia to industry
and around the world. “People come from all over the world to partake in the
U.S. PhD,” she noted.
Nyquist is hopeful that change will occur. Over 350 promising
practices have been identified by those looking at the issue nationally. She
encouraged UC’s faculty to explore those, and “steal” the best for their own
use. “We’ve got the models. We just need broader use of those models.”
More information about Nyquist’s project and the national
movement can be found at depts.washington.edu/envision/ .
Committee on Enhancing Doctoral Education
For more information on the committee’s work, contact any of the following
Kathryn Gutzwiller, professor of classics (committee chair),
Bruce Ault, professor of chemistry (commitee co-chair), 556-9238
Arpi Anderson, CCM doctoral student
Iain Cartwright, associate professor of molecular genetics
Robert Conyne, professor of education and human services
Carol Deets, associate dean of nursing
Narayanan Jayaraman, head, materials science and engineering
Linda Przybyszewski, associate professor of history
Katherine Tepperman, professor of biology